A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that because the basic plot involves a teen girl disguised as a young man, there are numerous scenes that place Yentl in embarrassing and uncomfortable situations, some of them with sexual overtones (i.e., Yentl being in the presence of several young men as they strip and jump naked into a pond). Though there is no actual sexual activity, the "marriage" ceremony performed between Yentl and another young woman is taken seriously by the "bride" and she attempts to make love to her husband, unaware that it is Yentl, a girl. These scenes are presented in a gentle way and do not emphasize sexuality. There is occasional wine drinking both in social situations and for religious ceremonial purposes.
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What's the story?
YENTL (Barbra Streisand), a young Jewish woman in Eastern Europe at the turn of the 20th century, finds the traditional role for women in her culture unacceptable. Rather than living a submissive life as a homemaker, mother, and right hand to a husband, Yentl has a thirst for knowledge, for debate, for the study of Talmud, and for a life of the mind. When her father dies and she's left on her own, Yentl undertakes a brave but rash adventure. She disguises herself as a young man, travels alone to a distant city, and becomes a Yeshiva student, surrounded by rabbis and other intellectual young Jewish men. Complications ensue when Yentl finds herself falling in love with Avigdor (Mandy Patinkin), a brilliant young man. And, at the same time, Avigdor's fiancée Hadass (Amy Irving in an Oscar-nominated supporting role) finds herself drawn to Yentl, the "new boy" in town.
Is it any good?
Barbra Streisand's first film as a director, based on a story by Isaac Bashevis Singer, is an earnest, passionate effort. It has charming moments, some outstanding performances, pays beautiful attention to the detail of an Eastern European culture destroyed decades later by the Holocaust, and focuses on the always pertinent human desire to reach one's full potential.
Still, it isn't entirely successful. The resolution is not fully satisfying. At well over two hours, the film feels longer than the story merits. The music, designed to pay tribute to the Talmudic core of the story, tends to sound the same throughout. And is it really possible for an audience to accept a 40-something woman in the role of a young girl pretending to be a male Yeshiva student? Yet, it's a good try: enjoyable, perhaps just as brave as Yentl's divine experiment. If nothing else, Ms Streisand's voice is as extraordinary as ever.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the movie's music. Does it help you understand what Yentl is feeling?
Even though it's clear to us that Yentl is not really a boy, was it possible to suspend your disbelief and accept that the other characters never questioned her? What other movies have you enjoyed that asked you to suspend your disbelief?
What are some of the tools (i.e., costumes, settings/art direction, lighting) the filmmakers used to take you back to the time and place of the story?
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